Riding the Orphan Train to Love (Preview)

Chapter One

Boston, 1880

“You don’t have to go, you know,” Aunt Nell said nervously. “Not yet, at least.”

Rosa clenched her jaw and concentrated on folding her shift just right in her suitcase. “I have to, Aunt. If I don’t leave now, I’ll lose my nerve. It has to be now.”

Behind her, Aunt Nell gave a sigh. They’d been over this subject again and again, like a bit of well-worn carpet trodden over so many times that the color and pattern were entirely faded away. Frankly, Rosa didn’t believe that there was anything new to say that would make her aunt feel differently. 

“Young women aren’t meant to be out in the world by themselves. Not when they have alternatives.”

“By alternatives, do you mean marrying Bradley McPhee?”

Rosa could almost imagine her prim-faced aunt drawing herself up. She had married Robert Filigree, the banker, and had considered it a good match even though she was eighteen, and he was nearly forty. 

“It would be a comfortable life for you,” Aunt Nell said tautly. “You could receive worse offers.”

“You’re right there, Aunt.”

Rosa fiddled with her things for a few minutes more before guilt got the better of her. Sighing, she turned to face her aunt. 

“I don’t mean to be rude, Aunt Nell, truly, I don’t. I don’t expect you to understand.”

“I certainly don’t. You’re quite right,” Aunt Nell muttered.

Aunt Nell, a bird-like woman in her fifties with hardly an ounce of spare flesh on her body and a perpetual air of martyrdom, had raised Rosa for the past four years. She’d been all the family Rosa had, ever since that hellish summer which carried off a great many people with the fever and left Aunt Nell widowed, and Rosa orphaned. Aunt Nell was not perfect and did not understand how children and young people thought, but she had determinedly done her best, and Rosa appreciated that. 

She had quite a horror about what she called modern ideas, which might be anything between ladies not wearing gloves all the time, the concept of rouge, or—in this case, for example—a young woman accepting a teaching post in the back end of Nowhere, Colorado, and going on out into the world. 

The letter of acceptance stood on Rosa’s dresser, a reminder that she had something to focus on. 

She mostly tried not to look at it. 

Aunt Nell scurried forward, taking Rosa’s hands in hers and angling her away from the suitcase, as if she might forget that she was leaving at all if she didn’t look at it. 

“Take a few months at the very least to think it over,” Aunt Nell said firmly. “Teaching isn’t exactly not respectable, if women holding a profession can be respectable at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. I mean, where is…where is…” She paused, glancing over at the letter, “Prairie Havens, after all? I’ve never heard of it.”

Rosa gently but firmly pulled her hands away. It felt unspeakably cruel, being so cold to her aunt, but then Aunt Nell was going to have to get used to Rosa not being here, sooner or later. Aunt Nell had plenty of friends and was probably one of the foremost women in town. She had no children, and had never particularly wanted them, and led a rich and full life, paid for by her late husband’s money. It seemed she had intended to tow Rosa around behind her, until Rosa announced her plans over dinner one night and ruined the evening quite neatly. 

“It was all a lie, Aunt.”

That silenced her. Rosa turned back and began packing. 

She didn’t have much to take. There were dresses, of course, endless dresses—Aunt Nell loved clothes, and loved to make gifts of them to her favorite and only niece—but Rosa couldn’t take those frilly, frothy confections out to a prairie, for heaven’s sake. She’d look a fool. Instead, she’d stuck to sensible, somber gowns—gingham, green or blue check, gray calico, a few patterned calicos, aprons, and a rather nice pale lavender that would do for special occasions. She had a few books to bring, a few trinkets, along with the necessary papers, of course. After that, it was just the boring things—shoes, stockings, shifts, petticoats, and so on. 

Not as much as she might have thought. In fact, the pile of things on the bed ready to be taken was remarkably small. 

Aunt Nell got her second wind. 

“I think it’s cruel to call your parents liars, Rosa. They loved you very much and did their best to raise you well.”

“They were excellent parents,” Rosa admitted. “I loved them, and they loved me. None of…none of what I discovered has changed any of that, believe me. There was never anything to forgive—they adopted me fair and square, and if my parents were willing to let me go, then I daresay I had a better life than if I had stayed. But, Aunt, they lied to me. Until their dying day, neither of my parents breathed a word, and people knew. How could I have been so foolish?”

Rosa slapped the lid of her suitcase closed. Her room was a fairly simple one, since she didn’t much like finery and decoration, so the large, gilt-framed painting of herself and her parents stood out like a sore thumb in the practical room. 

Now that she knew the truth, Rosa could see how unlike her parents she was. Rosa was tall, stocky, olive-skinned and green-eyed, with thick dark hair and a round, smiling face. Her parents were a delicate, fine-boned pair, with aquiline noses, blue eyes, and fair hair which had mostly run to white by the time the picture was painted. They had a way of seeming to look down their long noses at everyone, even when they weren’t. 

Rosa hadn’t cared. They were her parents, and flawless in her eyes. 

Then the summer had come, and everybody had died of fever, leaving Rosa inexplicably alive and her parents gone, one right after the other. There were papers to be gone through, and that was where Rosa had found the adoption papers. 

Her adoption papers. 

She learned then that she had been adopted at just short of five years old, taken from a place which was now called Prairie Havens. 

“If I could just ask them a few questions, I wouldn’t mind so much,” Rosa muttered. “Why did they go so far for me? What did my birth parents think? What were they like? Who am I?”

Aunt Nell grabbed Rosa’s hands again, with surprising strength, and whisked her around to look her dead in the eyes. 

“You’re Rosa Sullivan,” she said firmly. “Your parents are Thomas and Julia Sullivan, and they loved you with all their hearts. My brother might have done a great deal that surprised me, but he was a good man and he loved you.”

Rosa closed her eyes. “I know, Aunt.”

“Then why go? Why set off on this madcap trip to Colorado, of all places?”

“Because I want to know, Aunt.”

“What do you expect to find out, hmm? That your parents were lazy drunks? You know, the truth is probably more underwhelming than you could imagine. Far too many families have child after child, more mouths to feed, more backs to clothe, and they simply cannot afford it. It’s common practice to give a few away. You’ll go all that way to find that your parents were too poor to feed you and didn’t love you enough to keep you with them.”

There was a little silence after that. Aunt Nell looked a little horrified at herself. Rosa only smiled grimly. 

“Do you think I haven’t considered that, Aunt? Look, if I do find them—and the odds that I will find them are low—I’ll ask a few questions, then I’ll be happy. Until then, I’ll have work as a teacher to support myself. I’ll be fine.”

Aunt Nell did not seem reassured. Not even a tiny bit. 

The fact was, of course, she was right. Rosa had lain awake for nights, imagining tearful, fairy-tale reunions with her birth parents, something to soothe away the pain of losing her real parents—because that was what Thomas and Julia Sullivan were, her real parents—but she knew that was unlikely. More than likely, her father would be a drunken fool, with more children than he could remember, and a haggard, hard-faced wife who would instantly start asking Rosa for money to feed her still-growing brood. There’d be no apologies, no explanations, no professions of love. Just a taut request for the duty of a daughter since she’d seen fit to bring herself back. 

I won’t be sucked into something like that, though, she’d told herself over and over again. But how could she be sure? What if they offered her something in return—love, perhaps, or a sense of belonging? Would she still have the sense and strength to say no? 

You’re overthinking it, Daisy, came her father’s amused voice in her head. They’d called her Daisy, or Bluebell, or Lavender often, almost like a joke. She’d always liked it, but lately, she’d begun to wonder if it was because they didn’t like her name. They hadn’t picked out Rosa for her, and since she’d been almost five years old by the time they took her, it was perhaps a little late to change her name. 

I miss you, Papa. Why wouldn’t you just tell me the truth? Did you think I’d stop loving you? 

Rosa drew in a long, fortifying breath and forced herself to stop thinking about it altogether. 

“I can’t stay much longer, Aunt,” she said aloud, a little irritated at how her voice shook. “The train leaves at four in the morning.”

Aunt Nell gave an unhappy sigh. “I can’t persuade you, then?”

“No, Aunt. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to go. I…I’ve been thinking about this for years. I’ve had this planned since I was sixteen years old.”

Her aunt’s shoulders slumped. “Well, I suppose all I can do is give you my begrudging blessing. Come, will you have time to take tea with your old aunt one last time?”

Rosa smiled weakly. “Of course I will, Aunt. I can’t wait.”

***

The train whistle blew shrilly, and the platform was enveloped in steam. Another ten minutes and the train would be gone, chugging doggedly on its way, and Rosa would be on it. 

Her new traveling coat, simple and modest as befitted a schoolteacher, was a little too tight, pinching in her waist. Likewise, her new hat didn’t quite sit comfortably on her head, and one hatpin was poking her scalp. 

“Well, this is it,” Rosa said, wishing she sounded more confident. “Wish me luck, Aunt.”

Aunt Nell looked older and paler than this morning, somehow. 

“I will, with all my heart,” she said at last, “because you’re going to need it. The West is a lawless place, you know.”

“It can’t be that bad,” Rosa said with a laugh. “Towns must have sheriffs, after all.”

“Yes, one man to manage goodness only knows how much land, or how many people, or what percentage of them are criminals. Think of how much effort and how much danger it took folks to make wagon journeys out West. What do you think would spur a person to make that trip?”

“Hope of a new life, I suppose,” Rosa said, but her aunt shook her head. 

“Fear. Fear makes people do that. Fear of change, fear of being caught. Mark my words, each and every person there was driven there, and that means a whole lot of secrets going around. And you’re going to be teaching their children. You don’t know how to be a teacher, girl!”

“I have all the qualifications, Aunt. I’ll be careful, I promise.”

“There are bandits and horse-thieves, bears and coyotes and wolves, and corruption of all kinds. You’re going to be alone, and that will make you vulnerable. For heaven’s sake, Rosa, you’ve never even spent a night alone by yourself before!”

This shook Rosa a little, although she tried her best not to show it. 

“You really don’t trust me, Aunt?” she said, trying to make a joke of it. “If things go badly, I can always come back.”

“It’s going to take weeks for letters to pass between us, and heaven only knows how long for you to travel there,” Nell said miserably. “You’re on your own, Rosa, make no mistake. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”

The train whistle squealed again. Rosa forced a quick smile, leaning forward to kiss her aunt’s soft, powdery cheek. 

“I love you, Aunt Nell,” she said softly. 

The old woman’s arms went tight around her. “I’ll think of you every day. I just wish you’d listened to me, that’s all. This is a mistake, and I think you’ll see that soon enough.”

With those joyful words ringing in her ears, Rosa climbed on board the train and left home for the final time. Alone. 

Chapter Two 

Prairie Havens, Colorado

Daniel tilted his neck back, taking in the entirety of the lopsided wooden structure. It had been described to him as a barn, but in all honesty, even the word shack felt generous. 

The corners of his mouth tugged down as he cataloged each and every rotted plank of wood, each poorly fitted roof slate, each sagging line. 

“Well?” the man at his side asked anxiously. “I know it’s a big job, but…”

“It is a big job, Stuart. Haven’t you thought of tearing it all down and starting again? It would be no more expensive, I’d wager, and probably take less time.”

Stuart bit his lip. He was a bulky man, balding, with a chest straining to escape his too-tight shirt. 

“It’s just that me and my Pa worked on it together,” he said at last. “It was our final project together, and now he’s gone…” Stuart trailed off meaningfully. 

Daniel smothered a sigh. You’d never think that Stuart Ticker was sentimental, but he was, and apparently, he thought that his father’s spirit had gone into the falling-down old barn. 

“I’ll fix it up, Stuart, don’t you worry. And for the price we agreed.”

Stuart brightened. “Oh, you’re worth your weight in gold, lad.”

If only. 

“I’ll be back to get a start tomorrow, early.”

Stuart nodded eagerly, glancing back over his shoulder to where his ranch house nestled in the valley behind them. 

“Thank you, Daniel, thank you. There’s my old lady waving to us—are you coming in for a bite to eat? Some coffee?”

Daniel shook his head. “I’d better get back. Ma and Pa are waiting for me. I think Eleanor is joining us.”

Stuart shot a significant look at him, which Daniel tried not to notice. 

“Ahh, of course. Oh, to be young and in love. I remember when I was twenty-three, and I met my Janey for the first time…”

“I really should be going,” Daniel said hastily before Stuart could dive into recounting his youth in full detail. 

“Of course, of course. Give my love to Eleanor, won’t you? Oh, and you make a fine pair, by the way!”

He shouted that last part, as Daniel had already snatched up his basket of tools and set off at a good pace across the fields. He clenched his jaw and put his head down. 

A fine pair, indeed. 

Oh, he knew that he and Eleanor complimented each other perfectly. She was pale, despite the punishing Colorado sun, with rich midnight-black hair that hung to the small of her back when it was down, and the most beautiful clear blue eyes that everybody in the town commented on. She was remarkably beautiful, and everybody said so. 

Daniel was her opposite, with his tanned skin, golden-blond hair, strong, square face, and amber-colored eyes. He’d been told he was handsome as he grew up, and he supposed it was probably true. Together, they were the best-looking couple in town, and when their engagement was announced, not a soul said that they were surprised. 

He strode across the fields, hardly thinking about where he was going, the path was so well-known to him. There wasn’t a single place in town that he hadn’t tramped over a dozen times. There was nothing new here. 

He jingled the few coins in his pockets, the small fee Stuart had given him for looking over the old barn, and of course, there’d be more once he started work. Daniel was known in town as the best woodworker around, and folks came to him regularly. Some of the money was handed over to his ma, of course, but she didn’t know about it all. Didn’t know about the little box tucked under his bed, where Daniel’s savings were growing bit by bit. 

She certainly didn’t know what he intended to do once the box was full. 

Cooper Ranch loomed into view, a squarish building, whitewashed, with a green-painted porch. The smell of cooking dinner wafted out of the open kitchen window, and despite his exhaustion, Daniel cracked a little smile. He heard voices—Eleanor’s sweet tones among them—and heard his ma’s booming laugh. 

“Evening, Son,” remarked Mr. Cooper, a rake-thin man who never said a word beyond what he considered strictly necessary, and who spent all of his free time sitting on that same rocking chair on the porch. Unless there was snow, of course, then he was driven inside and angled one of the parlor chairs to look out of the window instead. 

“Evening, Pa,” Daniel responded. 

“You get the job at Stuart’s?”

“I sure did.”

“Good.”

Mr. Cooper returned to his newspaper, indicating that the conversation was over, and Daniel ducked his head under the threshold and went inside. 

“We’re in the kitchen,” his mother called, and Daniel toed off his boots and headed that way. 

Ma Cooper, as she was called by just about everyone in town, including her husband, was not as rake-thin as her husband. However, there was a spareness to her, as if having too much flesh was wasteful somehow. Ma Cooper hated waste. 

Daniel often felt fat and unwieldy around his thin parents despite just having an ordinary, brawny frame, the sort of muscular shape a farm laborer and woodworker would expect to have. At least Eleanor, with her willow frame, would fit in nicely. 

The woman herself was perched on a high stool by the table, sipping coffee. Her expression brightened when she saw Daniel, and she bounced over to him, standing on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. Daniel dutifully bent down so she could reach. 

“I hope you’re going to wash your hands before supper,” Ma Cooper remarked, jerking her head towards the corner of the kitchen. “We’ve got guests.”

The guest in question was Pastor Vickers, a plump, rabbity-looking man of about thirty, who’d already displayed his healthy fear of Ma Cooper. He was jammed into a little stool in the corner, long legs raised to his chest, and held a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. All of this prevented him from getting to his feet to shake Daniel’s hand, although he tried once or twice.

“I’m sorry to disturb you all so near to mealtime,” the pastor said at last, “but I wondered if you might do me a favor, Daniel.”

“Depends on the favor,” Daniel remarked, splashing water from the basin in the corner on his face. He earned himself a glare from his mother. 

“As you know, a new schoolteacher is coming to Prairie Havens. She’s due to arrive today. Tonight, in fact. My dear wife and I were going to go to the train station to meet her, but our only horse is being reshoed. I was wondering if you might collect her, Daniel? We’d hoped that you and Eleanor might go together, since you’re around about the same age as our new teacher, but dear Miss Turner has just told me that she must go back to check on her poor parents before supper.”

Daniel cast Eleanor a quick look. She didn’t meet his eye. Mr. and Mrs. Turner were perfectly hale and hearty, despite their age (Eleanor had been a very late baby), and certainly did not need to be checked up on. It seemed that Eleanor had no interest in being friends with their new schoolteacher. 

“I’ll go and fetch her,” Daniel found himself saying. 

Pastor Vickers’ face sagged in relief. “Oh, I’m so glad. Her train is due to come in about an hour from now, and me and my wife will go and make sure her little cabin is ready.”

“Oh, but poor Danny has been working all day, Pastor,” Eleanor complained, laying a tiny, possessive hand on Daniel’s arm. “He works for his father, works so hard, and then went to go and look at Stuart’s barn. He’s so tired, aren’t you, dearest? And we were so looking forward to spending time together.”

The pastor glanced at Daniel, nibbling his lower lip, which made him look more rabbity than ever. 

“I don’t mind,” Daniel repeated. Anything to get away from Eleanor’s endless stream of gossip over the dinner table, interspersed with wedding plans. Perhaps it would have been different if he could have matched her enthusiasm, but he couldn’t, so mealtimes dragged these days. 

Pursing perfect pink lips, Eleanor glanced over at Ma Cooper, sending a wordless plea for help. 

It didn’t come. Ma lifted her eyebrows. “Well, we need a schoolteacher, don’t we? The children have been long enough without one. We don’t want a bunch of illiterate fools in town, do we? We need a schoolteacher, and that teacher has to be brought from the train station to her new home if she’s going to be rested enough to teach properly. Somebody has to do it, and we’re close enough.”

Eleanor flushed and said nothing more. 

Daniel could have told her that Ma Cooper would not side with her here, not when education was at stake. Famously, Ma had been unable to read or write a single word, or manage her numbers, until the age of twenty-five, when she’d married Mr. Cooper. He’d taught her to read, write, and do accounts, slowly and painfully, and since then, she’d been a ferocious advocate for education all around, especially reading and writing. Any family who thought to hold back one of their sons to help with the ranch work, or their daughters because ‘they’d be getting married anyway’, might find themselves at the receiving end of one of Ma Cooper’s visits. 

On the other hand, though, a teacher who wasn’t doing their job properly would have Ma to contend with. 

He hoped their new schoolteacher would be able to cope with it all. Probably not. Their last two teachers hadn’t lasted more than half a year apiece. 

Hiding a smile, Daniel snatched up a piece of bread from the dinner table and stuffed it in his mouth. Ma shot him a look, but since he was about to go out into the gathering dusk and get the horse and cart ready, she was probably ready to let him get away with it. 

“I’m pleased you’re willing to help me,” the pastor said nervously, shooting a look at Eleanor as if he expected more objections. She was probably thinking of them but didn’t dare voice them in front of Ma Cooper. 

Fair enough. 

“What’s her name, then?” Daniel asked, “and what does she look like? Just so I don’t pick up the wrong person.”

Pastor Vickers gave a low chuckle. “I’d be surprised if you pick up the wrong person. Not many people get off the train here, for sure. She’s dark-haired, I think, and that’s all I know. Her name is Rosa Sullivan, and she’s nineteen years old.”

That got Ma’s attention. Her head snapped up from where she was leaning over the pot of stew on the stove. 

“Nineteen?” she repeated incredulously. “That’s a full ten years younger than the last one!”

The pastor flushed. “Well, yes, but there aren’t many schoolteachers willing to come all the way out here. It’s not as if there’s any prospect for advancement in a place like Prairie Havens.”

Ma growled. “It’s not about advancement. Tell me at least that she’s experienced in teaching.”

“I have every faith that Miss Sullivan is a talented and knowledgeable teacher,” Pastor Vickers said firmly. 

Daniel noticed the evasion but kept it to himself. 

“I’d better get going, then, if I’m to get to the train station in time,” he said at last. “You want me to bring her to the schoolteacher’s cabin?”

“Yes, please. I’ll come out with you.”

Pastor Vickers hauled himself off the stool at last, smiling nervously at Ma Cooper and tipping his hat to Eleanor. He scuttled after Daniel, breathing an almost audible sigh of relief. 

“Nineteen, eh?” Daniel remarked quietly, once they were outside. 

“She’s almost twenty, as I understand it.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to Ma. I won’t tell her that this is the girl’s first teaching post, though.”

Pastor Vickers glanced sharply at him. 

“Yes, I’d be grateful. I’m sure she’ll do fine.”

Daniel smiled grimly. “Let’s hope so, for her sake more than anything else.”


“Riding the Orphan Train to Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Rosa Sullivan’s happy, privileged life is shattered when she learns that her parents are not her birth parents at all. With her life in turmoil, she’s left with two choices, marry for stability or venture into uncertainty. Fueled by grief and curiosity, she embarks on a journey to Colorado to search for the answers. There, she crosses paths with Daniel, a local man who harbors his own discontent and their connection feels oddly familiar…

Will Rosa find the answers she seeks?

Daniel Cooper has no reason to be miserable and yet he longs for more, something outside the boundaries of Prairie Havens. The new schoolteacher seems to have already done more with her life than Daniel could ever have imagined. Jealousy, misery, frustration, and hope combine to make Daniel feel things he has never felt before, and for the first time, he sees a way out of the life mapped out for him. However, as always, life is never simple, and somebody may not be willing to let Daniel go.

Will his feelings for Rosa prove to be his undoing?

Together, Daniel and Rosa find themselves growing closer, juggling town politics, family expectations, and a long-hidden secret that Rosa might unearth… Can they defy their fears, to uncover the truth? Will their returning memories draw them closer together, or pull them apart?

“Riding the Orphan Train to Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “Riding the Orphan Train to Love (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I hope you enjoyed the preview and that you are as excited as I am for this upcoming release! Make sure to leave your comments here. I’m so looking forward to read them 🙂

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